A 300 year old church in Massachusetts faced a major challenge. Its ‘young people’ were in their ‘60’s. Their annual budget was $15,000. Most neighbors who passed the drab building with a drive-in congregation thought the church was closed. The neighborhood was now an Italian and Jewish enclave unlike the congregation of forty people with no Jews and one Italian. The church had no bridge to the community and no presence in its neighborhood. It was seen as having no value by the community, despite its rich heritage. It was on the verge of death.

A new pastor spruced up the church – a sign of life to the neighbors. Then he surveyed community needs attempting to determine a pathway for the church to serve the city. Of all the community needs, the one that seemed to fit what they could offer was a day-care for single, working moms. The goal was not a money-making enterprise, but a ministry, targeted to the children of the poor. The center opened with one teacher and two students. In a year, they were caring for thirty-seven children, and twenty-four of those were on government subsidies. Three children were assigned to the day-care by the courts, having been abused or neglected. By the end of the first year, the day-care budget was larger than that of the church. The staff was Christian, but all the kids came from non-Christian homes. Daily, they sang hymns and choruses. They heard Bible stories. They were taught moral principles, wrapped with love and grace. There was music, art, cooking, and medical services. It was ‘total’ child care, with parental interaction as well.

Day-care is not the most reasonable route to church growth, the pastor acknowledged, but it was the route God used to reconnect them to a missional purpose and begin to reconcile lost people to Christ. The pastor recalled, “One mother came into my office, and the first thing she said to me was, ‘Tell me more about Jesus. My daughter has never been the same since she started coming to your day-care center.’ That woman and her daughter are now in church every Sunday.” According to the pastor, “Nine Jews have become members of the church. One of them was formerly the director of the Jewish Community Center, and her daughter works for the day-care center.”

One thing is clear, the community no longer thinks the church is closed, and they have found other ways to serve their city. There is a food pantry and care for homeless street people. They have a weekly television show run by members. They teach English to city-residents. They were given a nine-room, six bedroom house to use as a refugee center. Hundreds have been served through that ministry.

A Cambodian church has now been launched. To reach youth, they opened a coffeehouse, and now the median age in the church has gone from the ‘60’s to the ‘30’s’. Home Bible studies, evangelistic in nature, have also served as a bridge. Some forty-five percent of new members came through the Bible Study door. They woke up the sleeping missional dimension in their congregational life,[1] and a dying church was revived. Revivals that focus on the renewal of its members are not revivals at all. Revivals must have a missional dimension. They must resurrect a collective burden for the lost. With a fresh missional consciousness, the congregation asked, “What can we do together to touch this city?” It must re-center members, not in a new experiential spectrum, but in the middle of compassionate ministry.

If your church closed its doors today, would anyone but its own members notice? Would the community be saddened because such a great community transformation partner was gone?

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Robert Greenway and Timothy Monsma, 112-113.

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